There comes a time in the life of nearly every WordPress website – already monetized or not – when the issue of whether to integrate advertising will rear its head. The subject of how best to tackle this, from both a commercial and technical point of view, can be a tricky one if you’ve never faced it before.
In this article, we’ll look at how to assess whether advertising is right for your site, consider the core models available to you, go through a range of useful WordPress plugins to handle the heavy lifting, and finish up with some useful resources to help you further.
Let’s start with the most important question of all.
Is Your Site Ready for Ads?
The first thing to ask yourself is whether you should integrate advertising into your site at all.
Depending on the type and tone of your site, advertising could represent either an unacceptable commercial intrusion for your audience, or a self-sabotaging conversion killer for your existing monetization attempts.
Assuming you do feel advertising would be a good fit, the next question to consider is the current and potential size of your audience.
Regardless of what model you go for, online advertising is a numbers game at the end of the day and if those numbers don’t add up then your efforts are far better directed towards boosting traffic and growing your audience.
What sort of entry level are we talking about here? It’s impossible to pick a one-size-fits-all number but John Saddington makes an excellent, detailed case for 250 unique visitors per day being a sensible starting point.
Another key factor to bear in mind is your potential audience value. Not all audiences are created equally in the eyes of advertisers. For example, if your site has somehow attracted the attention of a small group of wealthy, tech-savvy luxury watch enthusiasts, you’re naturally going to have some pretty good options straight out of the gate.
The final item to consider before diving in is what sort of internal resources you can realistically devote to managing your advertising. Depending on the type of solution you select, getting ramped up could be as simple as installing a set-it-and-forget-it plugin or it could morph into an ongoing initiative requiring dedicated staff and resources.
A quick way of estimating potential revenue before you get going is by using Marginhound’s Website Revenue Calculator.
It’s based on a fascinating analysis of the revenue models of 100 small websites and should give you some indicative numbers to play with based on your current site traffic and niche.
Resources to Learn the Lingo
Online advertising comes with its own set of unique terms and potentially baffling acronyms that can easily confuse the uninitiated. We won’t get too bogged down in industry speak in this article but it’s in your interests to review the basics if you’re new to the game.
Daniel Scocco provides a solid overview of the fundamentals of CPC and CPM in his article Basic Mathematics for Internet Advertising. Ralph Wilson’s summary of the steps involved in developing ad revenue is also worth a read.
You should also take some time to familiarize yourself with standard online ad formats to get a feel for options that might best suit your site.
Speaking of options, let’s move on to the two main ones available to new advertisers.
Do It Yourself or Go With a Network?
There are two basic strategies available to you when considering advertising on your site:
Though some platforms may demand exclusivity, this isn’t usually an either/or scenario. You should be free to experiment with combinations of the two strategies until you find a solution that pays off for you.
The going it alone option has a lot in its favor if you have an already established site with a targeted, high-value audience. Michael Hyatt has a great breakdown of the key steps to take to make the most out of monetizing this option over at his blog.
The downside of managing your own advertisers and inventory comes with the amount of extra overhead in terms of relationship management, pitching and general admin that it entails. On the plus side, you’re free to set your own rates and remain in total control of what appears on your site at all times.
By contrast, the promise of advertising networks is simple: they’re there to do all the heavy lifting for you and deliver a stream of (hopefully) well-targeted, contextual ads direct to your audience. The downside is that you sacrifice control in terms of pricing and content.
Now, how do we go about actually integrating all these ads onto our sites?
Free WordPress Ad Integration Plugins
Ad integration is a natural fit for the power of plugins and there is a range of solutions available for handling the positioning, rotation and reporting of ads directly within WordPress.
Here are our top three picks of the most popular free options:
1. WordPress Ad Widget
If you’re looking for a no-frills, widget-based approach to serving up simple ads then it’s hard to beat WordPress Ad Widget from Broadstreet.
In use on over a 100,000 websites, AdRotate is one of the most popular free solutions out there and offers a slick backend dashboard experience for managing your ads. A Pro version is also available with more advanced features such as geo-targeting and advertiser statistics.
3. Advanced Ads
Another popular free solution in use with over 60,000+ active installs, Advanced Ads offers an impressive features list.
Paid WordPress Ad Integration Plugins
In addition to the free options above, there is also a range of more upscale paid solutions on the market for effectively managing your ads within WordPress. Here are three of the leading contenders to consider:
1. AdRotate Pro
Starting at €29 for a single site license. Create and manage unlimited ads with Adrotate Pro – A great advertising plugin for WordPress. Gather stats and run successful advertising campaigns from your dashboard.
2. OIO Publisher
OIO Publisher stands out both for the $47 multi-site license and the range of features including payment integration, basic affiliate management and advertiser management. An integrated ad marketplace is also on offer. You can kick the tires yourself with their set of online demos.
3. WP In Post Ads
An excellent option, the $39 purchase price for WP In Post Ads is the ultimate ad management plugin for in-post ads in WordPress posts and website. With the ability to split test ads, count views, reposition ads, show or hide them after a set amount of time, and customize it for each post, you’ll see higher earnings with your optimized ads.
Ad Networks on Offer
One of the easiest ways of starting with guaranteed ad inventory on your site, is by farming out the content to a third party in the form of an existing ad network.
Here’s a quick run through of the main players in the space:
New advertising networks are springing into life every day, many of them targeting specific niches. There’s a good roundup of current AdSense alternatives over at the AdPushup blog for those looking to dive deeper.
Two Advertising Success Stories to Inspire
The variety of plugins and ad networks on offer today mean that it has never been easier to explore advertising as a monetization strategy, but the road to long-term success is often far from smooth.
We’ve picked out two examples of people who’ve knocked it out of the park in the advertising arena to inspire you on your journey.
1. Pat Flynn
If you’re going to call your site Smart Passive Income then at some stage you’re going to have to walk the walk or risk ridicule.
Pat Smith has been over-delivering in a very public way since 2008, with regular income reports providing detailed breakdowns of his various forms of revenue.
A quick glance at the June 2015 report shows Flynn pocketed a tidy $2,115 in combined AdSense income, and an astonishing $105,168 in affiliate advertising revenue. Nice work if you can get it!
2. John Gruber
John Gruber’s Daring Fireball has been dishing up astute commentary on all things Apple since 2002 – an eternity in online publishing.
It’s tricky to put a finger on revenue figures for his one-man operation but, with weekly RSS feed sponsorships currently priced at $9,500 and a range of other revenue streams in place, it’s safe to assume things are ticking over nicely.
Gruber has spoken eloquently and openly about his search to find the best advertising mix to support himself and deliver the most value for his audience. His presentation at 2014’s XOXO festival is essential viewing.
There is a world of excellent online information out there for taking your advertising options to the next level. Here are three great resources to get you started:
We hope the information above will help you start nailing down your options for exploring advertising as a revenue stream on your site. Here’s a quick recap of action points to take away: